By JUSTIN AMMON
For Starkville Daily News
MABEN – There was an odd aura in the air following West Oktibbeha's narrow two-point loss Friday night: one of both defeat and achievement.
Although the Wolves (7-4 overall, 4-2 Class A, Region 3) fell short in a shootout, losing 42-40 at the hands of Pelahatchie, they still managed to secure the fourth seed playoff spot out of the region.
The postseason berth will be the school’s (whether referred to as Maben High or West Oktibbeha) third playoff appearance in its history and first showing in six years.
“I don’t want to say that I feel down,” West Oktibbeha quarterback Von Smith said. “This was a hard fought game, and we are still in the playoffs. We still have to advance to the next round.”
Pelahatchie and West Oktibbeha exchanged blows all night. The Chiefs executed their familiar ground attack at will, piling up 366 yards and five touchdowns on the ground against a porous Timberwolf front seven.
However, the Pelahatchie defense was equally as flexible. Smith went 17-for-29 for 218 yards, rolling out and picking apart the Chief secondary with crisp, accurate passing drive after drive. The Wolves also rushed for 136 yards and five touchdowns.
“I really felt like it was going to come down to who had the ball last,” West Oktibbeha coach Adam Lowrey said.
And it almost did. Chief running back Erick Hoard found the end zone -- his fourth touchdown -- from 1 yard out late in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 40-40. In a bold move, Pelahatchie coach Bill Ward elected to go for 2 points, hoping to quell any possibility of the Wolves winning the game on a 2-point conversion on its final drive. Naturally, Hoard found the end zone again, pounding up the middle for a conversion that put the score at 42-40.
The Wolves received the ball down 8 with less than 2 minutes remaining. On the first play of the drive, Shun Fair fooled the Chief defense on a draw play, bursting up the middle for a 55-yard scamper. With all the momentum favoring West Oktibbeha on senior night, Smith threw an interception to Laryan Fletcher on the next play, effectively ending the contest as he returned back the Wolves’ 5-yard line.
“We were killing them with the same play,” Smith said. “We just didn’t connect as good that time. My receiver tipped it high, and they picked it off and ran it back. It came down that play.”
The Wolves will square off against Cathedral next Friday in the first round of Class A playoffs. Pelahatchie (8-3, 4-3) has secured the No. 3 seed in front of West Oktibbeha in the region.
“We obviously have to come ready to work Monday and prepare for (Cathedral),” Lowrey said. “That's all we can do. We’ll see what happens.”